Part of our family originates from Cape Cod. We own a historic vacation home where we spend a lot of our time each summer with our children. Everyone has their favorite places to visit and things to do when on vacation. Some of our favorites are little known secrets and we hope these tidbits of information can help you plan your trip better.
Our family always makes the 8 hour drive to Cape Cod, Massachusetts instead of flying. The traffic on the East Coast can be vary heavy so we leave early in the morning. Our favorite place to stop for lunch on the way is called Aunt Shirley’s Pizza & Deli in Clinton, CT. It is a hole in the wall but a real deli. It is off exit 63 in Clinton. Take the exit and follow it to the end of the street to the deli. If we leave the DC area around 5 AM, we reach it just before lunch time.
We have a long list of places that are must-do’s with our children when we visit Cape Cod. We stay in the Southwestern tip of the Cape – this is a large area from the Bourne Bridge to Buzzards Bay. Traffic is so heavy during peak season and you will find that you won’t enjoy driving much on the Cape.
Falmouth is small town America at its best. If you look on the community calendar, you can coordinate your visits into the downtown area to see a weekly band concert or shop at the farmer’s market. Our first stop is always for sweets!
Bens and Bills Chocolate Emporium is in downtown Falmouth. The ice cream here is amazing; they even have lobster ice cream (which you can sample.) It is pretty expensive ice cream but if you get a kids size, it is still the size of a softball. The chocolate is good too and they often make it behind the counters. Don’t waste your time at any other ice cream place, this stuff is homemade!
Also in downtown Falmouth is a darling little bookstore called Eight Cousins. It is a fabulous kid’s bookstore run and owned by passionate people. I have never seen a bookstore like this before where the enthusiasm for books is so contagious. Plan to spend a lot of time browsing here and check their online calendar to coordinate with an book signing or story time. This is one of the sole-proprietor bookstores left on the Cape.
A well-kept secret on the Cape is a place called Paul’s Pizza. It is a local, non-touristy pizza and seafood restaurant. It is so local that they don’t even have signs! Paul’s has the most amazing pizza you have ever tasted. The pizzas are smaller but perfect for children! They are a little pricier than pizza chains but so good. If you order, call 2 hours ahead, and ask for all of your pizzas to “be extra crispy in the old oven.” Chorizo and Pineapple is a favorite. They open at 4pm Weds to Sun and are closed on holidays.
When we want seafood, we always order it from Green Pond Fish Market in East Falmouth. They only do boxes for pick up. It is fresh if you want lobster, stuffed quahogs and steamers for a fairly inexpensive price. They also offer fish and chips for the kids.
When you go to the Cape, don’t forget to bring kites with you! If you don’t want to go to the beach to fly kites, there is a popular grassy area to fly them on the open field in front of the Falmouth Yacht Club. It is a big grassy area where Grand Avenue turns and parallels the Vineyard Sound, and in front of Mariner’s Point motel. Here you can see Martha’s Vineyard and catch one of the best breezes on the Cape. If you are interested in sailing lessons for children, check out the Falmouth Yacht Club.
A fun thing to do is to rent “surries” in Falmouth Heights and pedal around the streets. Surries are open aired structures that you pedal like bikes but look like golf carts. The kids love them. The bike shop in Falmouth on the Heights Road has them and they are rented by the hour.
On a rainy day, it is really fun to go to Ryan Family Amusement in downtown Falmouth. They have duckpin bowling there and an old fashion arcade. Duckpin bowling is very rare to find these days and originated in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is perfect for children because the balls are very small.
Another rainy day activity is to go to Woods Hole. It is a little college/research town based around the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The free hands-on aquarium in the institute has seals and horseshoe crabs and areas where kids can touch ocean creatures. Parking is hard (but free) so plan to park on side streets.
The Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee is a great outing for children if you need a day off from being outside. Like most children’s museums, it is very educational with a nautical theme. It is very close to Mashpee Commons if you are interested in mall stores. Some of the stores are great for children like the Red Balloon Toy Store and Cape Kids (clothing).
Sippewissett is another area of the Cape that is beautiful. The feeling of this area is a little different than Falmouth – quieter and woodsy. This is where the beach that was named by my kids “Hermit Crab Beach” is located. This is a great beach to search for critters and wade on the sand dunes. It is officially called Wood Neck Beach. This beach is a tricky area to get to so I suggest mapping it before you go. Beach stickers are required but after 4 pm, parking is free. At this time in the summer, the tide is going out so there are plenty of salt flats for the kids to run around on.
The best lighthouse for kids is Nobska Point. This is the one that is on all the postcards around the Cape. It is scenic and great location for taking family photos, having a picnic and learning about lighthouses. If you time it right, you may be able to get a tour of the lighthouse by the keeper but remember, there is no air conditioning!
If you visit the Cape during the Barnstable County Fair, you have to go! This fair is known as one of the best in the country. It is reasonably priced and worth visiting on the “children’s day.” Many of the attractions include fireworks, livestock exhibits, motorcycle racing, homemade clam chowder, doughnuts, pies and much more.
Falmouth is home to the main ferry lines to Martha’s Vineyard. We enjoy taking the Island Queen over to the Vineyard just for a day. The ferry is relaxing, has shade if you need it and about a 45 minutes ride. Kids 3 and under are free. You can walk around the area where they dock the ferry and there is plenty to do and see in one day. The Vineyard has a lot of places to eat and everywhere is kid friendly. Our family enjoys the area of huge flat grass by the ocean to picnic where kids can run around freely and climb on rocks. Bring strollers and a ton of water.
If you want to rent bikes on the Vineyard, I would suggest bartering with the bike shops that are right off of the dock. There are many bike shops around so you can “shop around” a little before deciding. When on the Vineyard, visit Mad Marthas. This is a fun place to get ice cream on the main street of Oaks Bluff. Very spacious and air conditioned inside with a juke box. They have unique shirts to purchase in addition to ice cream!
You must go and see the nation’s oldest platform carousel on the Vineyard called the Flying Horses Carousel. Try and grab the brass ring every time you loop around on your horse. Whoever gets the magical golden ring gets a free ride. The kids love it. Also in Oaks Bluff is a magical area of Gingerbread Houses where children love to walk. These houses are privately owned and every house is different. It is walking distance from the dock and no cars are allowed here. You have to see it to believe it.
The famous Black Dog is a logo you will see all over the Cape and has become a symbol for those who vacation there. It was originally a restaurant on the Vineyard that has become iconic. My suggestion is to skip the Black Dog restaurant. It is far from where the ferry docks and shirts can be easily be purchased at Black Dog stores on the mainland.
Cape Cod really is a wonderful place to vacation with children in the summer months but also during the off season. Most of the places mentioned above are open year round and are much easier to get to during off peak months.
What our family loves most about the memories in Cape Cod is that it isn’t just about the beach and a boardwalk. There is so much history, fun, food and excitement beyond the sand.
Photos by Andrea Verwys.